Putting Service Learning into Action through Community Partnerships


Author
Beth Gillespie, Director of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism, Eastern Illinois University

Published
May 25, 2017


Over the past 18 months, our office and our campus has had an increased focus on Service Learning and complimenting what our students are learning inside the classroom. During this time frame, our leadership team spent time meeting with department chairs to learn more about what experiences would best benefit their students and the departments’ learning goals. We learned about the most common majors, we learned about department-specific clubs, and we learned about gaps in service learning opportunities. A significant gap that we identified was offering opportunities for the students in our Special Education Department.

Charleston Transitional Facility (CTF) is a local organization that provides day programming and living facilities for adults with disabilities. They are a critical resource for families who need help supporting their family member. CTF provides meaningful days for the individuals that they serve, and are a valuable community partner. They were excited to partner with our office and the Special Education Department.

During the spring of 2016, we had our first 6-week pilot program. Each week we invited individuals from CTF to come to campus. We would each lunch in the Union, take a walk around campus, and then participate in a different activity each week. These activities varied from bowling to arts and crafts, to bingo. We had student volunteers come and help lead the activities while building relationships with the individuals from CTF and offering them a chance to explore our campus.  The majority of our volunteers each week were from Special Education focused programs on campus.

For the Fall 2016 semester, we decided to expand the program to 10 weeks and we collaborated with a Professor from our Kinesiology and Sports Studies Program who was teaching an adaptive Physical Education class. Rather than walking around campus, his students would plan and then lead different activities each week for 30 minutes. This not only offered a more structured and more enjoyable experience for our CTF individuals but also offered our students a chance to put into practice what they were learning!

This upcoming summer term, the Special Education Department will be continuing the CTF program as part of their class, treating this experience as a mini-practicum. This experience will help grow those students’ leadership skills, their planning and facilitating experience and give them hands-on practical knowledge with the population they want to spend their careers serving. Not only will they serve the individuals of CTF during this course, but will be better prepared for their classes and careers because of this experience.

This partnership with CTF and the collaboration with various departments across campus has helped make this service learning and volunteer opportunity-rich and meaningful for all that are involved. It has become a staple in our weekly volunteer opportunities, and helped brighten the days for the individuals served by the Charleston Transitional Facility!


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